The Joys and Sorrows of Collecting Stickers in the 1980s

by Dana Kramaroff
Originally Published: 
Sparkling hearts and stars stickers in various colors on a white background

Looking back on it now, trading stickers might just have been the most lame ’80s pastime ever. I was quite the collector, though, and back when we called the things we did for fun “hobbies,” collecting stickers was the hobby I wrote about to every pen pal I had from about 1984 to 1987.

There were two types of sticker collectors.

Type one filled tear-back, plastic-film photo albums. This was the “smack ’em on the page” approach. (Don’t mind me over here. I’m just gonna stick these babies down and keep on going until every page is filled.) This approach, at times, lacked organization and finesse, but it worked for many.

© Courtesy Dana Kramaroff

Type two, clearly, was the more sophisticated collector. It was all about purposefully acquiring stickers to complete your collection. These kids aspired to have the most rare and wide array possible. They snipped each sticker apart with its paper backing intact, ready for a trade at a moment’s notice. That was totally, like, me (had to throw a little Valley Girl in there).

© Courtesy Dana Kramaroff

You might need a short sticker refresher course. There were four basic kinds of those sticky papers: shiny, puffy, fuzzy and smelly.

Shiny ones came in every bright color imaginable and included pastels and neon, of course. There were monkeys with bananas, music notes, rocket ships, teddy bears, double Popsicles and clowns (before clowns were scary…well, actually, they were always scary!).

© Courtesy Dana Kramaroff

Puffy ones were often animals or inanimate objects with googly eyes, but Pac-Man and Hello Kitty also came puffy.

There were the pop culture stickers, representative of the toys, music, movies and Saturday morning cartoons of that time: Cabbage Patch Kids, Michael Jackson, Gremlins, Snoopy, Popeye, Scooby Doo, Ghostbusters, Pound Puppies, Shirt Tales, Smurfs and The Muppets. I had them all.

I loved the fuzzy ones—red lips, skunks, soccer balls, ladybugs and the occasional Scotty dog. They just felt so good on your fingertips.

© Courtesy Dana Kramaroff

The scented ones were what dreams were made of in the life of a 7-year-old in 1985. They were half-dollar size: a happy kernel of popcorn that read, “Poppin’ Good,” an adorable pineapple shouting, “Right on!” and toothpaste proclaiming, “Smile Power!”

And of course there were the unicorns, rainbows, happy animals and hearts, oh man, there were a lot of hearts.

The thing about collecting stickers was that you couldn’t actually do anything with them. There was absolutely no playing with your stickers. You could leaf through your album. If you were lucky, you found someone you could actually trade with, but when it came down to it, stickers were just pieces of paper.

Let me tell you, as a parent today, I can’t think of a worse hobby. My kids’ own attention and dedication to sticker collecting would last, seriously, 2.3 seconds.

After all, the only place where you get stickers anymore are from the doctor’s office to make kids feel better after getting shots or surviving the dentist’s chair. How about that? Stickers, today, are connected to discomfort and pain. No wonder sticker collecting isn’t a thing in 2015. Who can blame these poor kids?

But somehow, in the simple time of my childhood, we collected those pretty papers and we were awfully content. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad hobby after all.

Really, my collection of stickers is, like, a rad time capsule of my childhood. I am quite pleased with myself that for 30 years, basement-to-basement, these treasures have withstood the dust and spiders, for my own kids to enjoy…with their eyes, just their eyes. Sorry kids, those are Mommy’s. Look with your eyes, not with your hands.

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